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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Having Compassion

Have you been following the Compassion bloggers in Uganda? I've been following two bloggers I particularly enjoy: Rocks in My Dryer and BooMama. Their responses to what they've seen in Uganda have been so full of honesty and love. They've done a wonderful thing by bringing us into some some sort of contact with the real lives of the children Compassion helps. They are on their way home now, but you can still read their blog posts.

It is an honest and honorable human impulse to want to help when we see someone in need. And even more so a Christian one. However, something that I struggle with is *how* to best help. We've all seen and heard about how help from the West can often turn out badly - through corruption (in country or in the charitable organizations) or by having unintended consequences. Last night I stumbled onto an article in City Journal that brought to mind this other side of charity. The side we don't want to think about, but must:

Kenyan economist James Shikwati agrees that handouts thwart the emergence of a culture of self-reliant problem solving and that they breed corruption to boot. When a drought afflicts Kenya, he says, Kenyan politicians “reflexively cry out for more help.” Their calls reach the United Nations World Food Program...

When the requested grain reaches Africa, a portion of it “often goes directly into the hands of unscrupulous politicians who then pass it on to their own tribe to boost their next election campaign.” Much of the rest of the grain gets dumped at less than fair market value. “Local farmers may as well put down their hoes right away,” Shikwati says. “No one can compete with the UN’s World Food Program.”

Please don't misundertand me, Compassion and similar organizations that invest in the lives of individuals do a good job of living out the principles of Christian charity without slipping into the paternalism that ruins lives and economies. But, seeing this article just after reading about the work Compassion is doing made me think about how to apply some of the ideals discussed in the City Journal article to the work we do as a church.

How do we ensure that our foreign (and local) mission work is truly uplifting the people we work with? What are some warning signs or pitfalls to avoid? How do we respond to physical needs without falling into the trap of paternalism? One of the ideas the article mentions is encouraging entreprenuers in the population. How can churches do that - any ideas? What are some types of mission projects we could do that would actually inspire and support entreprenuerial activities?


Anonymous said...

My friends in Kenya and Chad report the same corruption and inequities: there remains an imbalance between aid and distribution... It's a tought thing to decide how to give - we chose to support people and work we know and can trust. My Kenyan sis-in-law sponsors an annual banquet in her home village in lieu of family gifts. Such things show honor, are greatly appreciated, and appeal to the whole tribe. On the other hand, friends of our work in Naivasha, training orphans and training the handicapped in various trades. That seems to be more longterm than some UN programs... (they've been in Kenya for 40 years.)

Belinda@upsidedownbee said...

Good questions. And thought provoking even for mercy ministries in our local communities. Thanks for the post. I'll have to ponder on it a bit. B.